Wanaka, in the one day we were there, reminded us quite a bit of our old home in the US, Summit County, Colorado. There’s a large lake, Lake Wanaka, ringed by mountains on all sides, and the town sitting on the flat areas. The central core of the town caters to tourists, with residents seemingly scattered around the outskirts (again, similar to Summit). We were there for only one night as a stop-over on the way to Te Anau in Fiordland.
We arrived early in the afternoon on Saturday and left around mid-morning the next day. Given such a short stay, we obviously only sampled a tiny bit of Wanaka. The town is a big base for hikers, bikers, and mountaineers in the summer (Mt. Aspiring is nearby), and skiers in the winter (Treble Cone, Cardrona, Snow Park, and Snow Farm are nearby). We didn’t get to experience any of those unfortunately. We stuck to the main in-town attraction — the lake. Many of the restaurants face the lakefront, which makes for a great meal when the weather’s nice, as it was during our stop.
We spent our time walking on the lakefront path, which affords some nice views of the mountains and the water-sports lovers on the lake.
I did have one specific reason for wanting to walk along the lakefront — to catch a glimpse of the famous “Wanaka willow”. It is a willow tree that grows IN the lake, and is probably one of the most photographed scenes in New Zealand. Everyone and their grandmother has taken pictures of this tree. But I still had to see it for myself. And as soon as you near the southwestern “corner” of the lake, you cannot miss it. It stands alone in the water, bending over ever so delicately like a finely crafted sculpture.
Only a few hours is obviously not enough to really get to know Wanaka. But even in that short time, it did seem like I was back in Colorado. Yes, it is touristy, but not (yet) over-commercialized (like another town coming up on our trip!).